Ski Season?

When I wrote the post below, it seemed like winter might finally be here. But even as our southern neighbors got buried, our snow shrunk in proportion. No ice shacks on the lake this year, though a few brave folks haul their traps out in sleds. The ice is 8-10 inches thick; usually it’s about 18 inches this time of year and people drive out in their trucks.

Can you see the ice fishermen way out there? No ice shacks this year.

Can you see the ice fishermen way out there? No ice shacks this year.

We are very short of snow.

We are very short of snow.

But there was a day, maybe a week or two ago, when we had Winter.

We woke to the pinging of sleet this morning, but the temperature dropped and the world quieted as it changed to snow. Sifting steadily down, it piled up and we threw on our skis.

Out the back door, across the road, we glided through our neighbor’s field, and into the woods. At first the cold northwest wind made us hurry, but when we reached the shelter of trees, we slowed and looked around. The beauty of the stark monochrome of winter is a cliche, but a deserving one: the bare trees with their white frosting really are beautiful. A green wax day.

We came to a stream crossing and took in the running water framed by jagged snow-topped ice–reminding me for some reason of layered toffee. Gingerly, we clattered across in a place where the ice stretched fully over the stream.

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On the other side is another neighbor’s trail system, wide paths rolled with a snow machine. We can ski a mile to the nearest road on his system, all without a trail fee or the mosquito whine of our snowsledding friends.

The quiet might be the thing we like best. When we stop, we hear the wind in the trees, a flock of chickadees foraging in the tops of a white pine, and the snowplow, distantly. All the while the snow falls, attempting to erase our tracks.

We turn around when we come to a house (at least two miles through the woods) and begin the journey back. It’s ever so slightly uphill most of the way, and by the time we come to the fields again, I have unzipped.

We ski through a patch of sensitive fern seedstalks, past brittle empty milkweed pods that rattle, past little round seedheads that look like coriander, but aren’t. We’ve seen plenty of deer prints, a porcupine trail, a ruffed grouse track, ubiquitous turkey footprints, snowshoe hare. Even though we feel alone out here, we aren’t.

As we came back out into our neighbor’s field, the wind now at our backs, we trudged towards home thinking of bowls of hot beef stew. And still the snow fell cold and silent, sealing us in winter, if only briefly.

 

 

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It’s Still All About Apples

applesA few weeks ago we were all about pies – apple, pumpkin, pretty much anything in or on a crust. But Thanksgiving came and went and Christmas muscled in to shove pies right out of the oven. Then it was all chocolate reindeer and cookies.

Now New Year’s has gone and we’re supposed to be working on our new, perfect selves. And by perfect selves, they mean perfect pie crust, right? Because I still have a garage full of apples.

I have spent years trying not to entomb perfectly good fruit inside tooth-breaking shells. I think, finally, I am gaining on it. Not that my crusts near my mother’s light, flaky perfection, but the tooth-breaking days seem to be over.

I am a liberal arts baker – you won’t find me leveling the tops of any measuring cups – which I realize might have extended my quest for crust nirvana. But I do believe in a good math ratio. And this is the one you need for crust: three parts flour to two parts fat to one part water (aka Michael Ruhlman’s 3-2-1 pie crust). I like that so much better than a cup of flour plus one tablespoon. Who does that? Wait. I know. I try not to bake around them.

It’s also about keeping the butter cold. Crisco adds a certain level of insurance, but I am trying to wean myself off of that hydrogenated mayhem and achieve flakiness with butter alone. Many a blog and cookbook promise it can be done.

This year’s epic apple harvest has provided ample practice material–for cakes, pies, cider hard and sweet, apple chips, apple sauce made from an esoteric collection of oddly named heirhooms: Blue Pearmain, Winter Banana, Northern Spy, Baldwin, Westfield-Seek-No-Further, Black Oxford, Twenty Ounce, Belle de Boskoop, Zabergau Reinette.

Then there are the apples in the garage – a whole tree’s worth of golden delicious. That means the race is on.  We have no basement or root cellar to store them in, so they’ll be mush if we don’t get moving. If I weren’t a snow lover, I would say that was one more reason to love our warm December.

They're not pretty on the outside any more, but they're still good for baking. Not only was this year's crop the biggest, it was also the best quality. No bugs, no scab, and no spray.

They’re not pretty on the outside any more, but they’re still good for baking. Not only was this year’s crop the biggest, it was also the best quality. No bugs, no scab, and no spray.

We have made a gallant effort to preserve the bounty. Our freezer is filled with peeled and sliced fruit. We have given apples away by the bag full. Yet we still we have apples.

So if you’re looking for me anytime in the next few weeks, chances are I’ll be peeling apples at the kitchen counter. My peeler blade may be worn out before I find the bottom of the apple boxes, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

Not apple, but any pie is good pie.

Not apple, but any pie is good pie.